26 Oct 2015

Endurance champ takes Bird of Year

11:04 am on 26 October 2015

The bar-tailed godwit - also called the kuaka - has been crowned New Zealand's bird of the year.

bar-tailed godwit

Photo: Athena Drummond

After three weeks and more than 13,000 people voting, the bar-tailed godwit edged past the kōkako in Forest and Bird's annual contest.

The godwit has the longest migratory flight of any bird in the world, travelling up to 12,000 kms without food, water or sleep between Alaska and New Zealand.

The bar-tailed godwit's campaign manager Keith Woodley, who is also manager of Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre, said bar-tailed godwits were incredible birds which deserved the accolade.

"Naming bar-tailed godwit New Zealand's Bird of the Year shows the world New Zealand cares about migratory shorebirds. This is a powerful message that will help support our conservation work in the East Australasian Flyway, especially in China and North Korea," he said.

Bar-tailed godwits

Bar-tailed godwits Photo: Keith Woodley

Mr Woodley said there were more threatened populations of migratory birds in our region than in any other flyway in the world.

The bar-tailed godwit population is declining two percent a year. Other migratory shorebird populations are declining faster. They face massive loss of habitat in the Yellow Sea.

Mr Woodley said all New Zealand birds were worthy of the accolade, but at Pukorokoro Miranda they were biased towards godwits and their amazing feats.

"Each year bar-tailed godwits fly across the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to New Zealand - flying non-stop for eight or nine days. Juveniles make the flight when they are less than four-months-old, usually without adult company.

"Passengers on a 12 hour flight across the Pacific will appreciate what the trip involves. Godwits do it without big engines on their wings, a flight crew to navigate, or food and drink brought to their seats!

"They fly up to 12,000 km without food, water or sleep, powered by a tiny cardio-vascular system burning fat. A godwit will double its weight before starting the trip, and then use all the stored fat in flight," Mr Woodley said.

Right now there are flocks of godwits all around New Zealand.

Good places to see godwits are any harbour or estuary with lots of tidal flats, such as the Manukau Harbour, Whangarei, Tauranga, Ohiwa, Kawhia, Foxton Beach, Waimea Inlet Nelson, Avon-Heathcote estuary, and Invercargill estuary.

Exhausted juvenile godwit's newly arrived on Foxton Beach.

Exhausted juvenile godwit's newly arrived on Foxton Beach. Photo: Phil Battley